It’s Time to Challenge Old Assumptions Around Re-Skilling and Career Advancement – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM STRATEGIC EDUCATION


By Andrea Backman, Acting President, Strayer University

I met a woman recently whose story resonated deeply with me because of both the potential and the challenges it presents.

Beverly is a single mother who lives with her two children under 10 and an elderly parent in Charlotte. She earns minimum wage in retail. Beverly tried to earn a college degree and wants to pursue a career in IT, but she has neither the time nor the funds to go back to school.

Stories like Beverly’s are unfortunately all too common and play out all over the country. According to the World Economic Forum, fewer people currently in the working and middle classes are likely to advance on the economic ladder. Despite a desire to upskill, many adults face barriers to growth that include lack of time, money, and professional networks to advance.

Meanwhile, companies are struggling to land the right candidates, inspire high performance among existing workforces, and develop the skills and leadership they need to meet their long-term organizational goals.

To build a workforce and fuel local economies, we must challenge old assumptions of upskilling and career advancement. This approach truly takes a village: local employers working with educators to communicate the workforce skills they need; institutions developing programs to train those skills; and learners connecting to the wraparound support networks they need.

For a worker like Beverly, I would challenge any assumption that the only way to advance her career is by obtaining a four-year degree. Instead, she might first apply for an IT job that allows her to earn a credential through a boot camp. At the same time, her employer might partner with a local organization to provide childcare so she could attend boot camp. With this kind of creativity, flexibility, and collaboration, Beverly can start on a path to economic mobility.

A Three-Step Plan for Mobility

A key factor in this model is a regional approach. Geographic regions in the U.S. have different economic and workforce needs given their locations, community priorities, demographics, and other factors. For example, Alabama was predicted, pre-Covid-19, to see a substantial rise in demand for software developers. Similarly, in pre-Covid Arizona, demand for nurse practitioners was predicted to rise significantly in the next three years. While Covid-19 has certainly changed the world as we know it, it is not unreasonable to believe that those needs, especially in health care, are and will remain greater than ever.

With that in mind, Strayer University, supported by our parent company, Strategic Education, Inc., is launching a program in Charlotte that offers a three-pronged approach to economic mobility, bringing local educators, employers, and the community together.

To kick off the project, Strategic Education surveyed nearly 300 Charlotte students and alumni of its higher education institutions, Capella University and Strayer University. Of those surveyed, 46% said they do not have network connections in their field of interest, and nearly 36% said they need a credential or license to advance in their desired field.

We can address these barriers to career advancement and economic mobility by doing three things:

  1. Develop partnerships that create pathways. If IT jobs are in high demand in Charlotte, higher education institutions could work with local technology companies to design coding boot camps to help train and develop the IT talent the local Charlotte community needs.
  2. Establish connection points. It’s evident that building a professional network is critical to career advancement. What Strayer University is doing different is developing local economic mobility centers to help build those key relationships through career fairs and networking events that connect the right people to the right jobs in the community.
  3. Provide holistic support. Life often gets in the way of earning a degree or a credential. With our new initiatives in Charlotte, we will provide debt and career counseling to students, and we hope to pair our academic coaching and community partnerships with organizations that can help support students with childcare, food insecurity, and affordable housing so they can stay on their path to economic mobility.

Employer-educator relationships have long existed, but these programs can be elevated by focusing on and embracing the wraparound support that community-based organizations provide working adult students to help them succeed in the local job market.

Stories like Beverly’s will become inspiring, as she can take the initial step, and then the next, on an upward trajectory. As she succeeds, so will those around her, creating new paths for economic mobility.

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